Background: Some patients with inflammatory bowel disease have anemia that is refractory to treatment with iron and vitamins. We examined whether administering iron and recombinant erythropoietin could raise hemoglobin levels in such patients.
Methods: Thirty-four patients with inflammatory bowel disease (15 with ulcerative colitis and 19 with Crohn's disease) and anemia refractory to iron therapy (hemoglobin concentrations below 10.0 g per deciliter [6.2 mmol per liter]) were randomly assigned in a prospective, double-blind, 12-week trial to receive either oral iron (100 mg per day) and subcutaneous erythropoietin (150 U per kilogram of body weight twice per week) (n=17) or oral iron and placebo (n=17). The primary measure of efficacy was an increase in hemoglobin levels of more than 1.0 g per deciliter (0.62 mmol per liter). Additional analyses were performed with other patients with inflammatory bowel disease.
Results: The severity of anemia was related to clinical disease activity as well as to in vitro monocyte secretion of interleukin-1 beta, a proinflammatory cytokine. Serum erythropoietin concentrations were increased in 52 randomly selected outpatients with inflammatory bowel disease and anemia, but the concentrations were inadequate in relation to the degree of anemia. Twelve weeks of therapy with recombinant erythropoietin and oral iron increased mean (+/-SE) hemoglobin concentrations from 8.81+/-0.27 g per deciliter (5.47+/-0.17 micromol per liter) to 10.52+/-0.41 g per deciliter (6.5+/-0.25 micromol per liter), whereas hemoglobin concentrations in the placebo group decreased from 8.69+/-0.11 g per deciliter (5.4+/-0.068 micromol per liter) to 7.84+/- 0.33 g per deciliter (4.9+/-0.2 mmol per liter) (P<0.001). After 12 weeks, hemoglobin levels had increased by more than 1.0 g per deciliter in 82 percent of the patients in the erythropoietin group, as compared with 24 percent of those in the placebo group (P=0.002). There were five treatment failures in the placebo group and two in the erythropoietin group (P=0.18); treatment failure was defined as a decrease in hemoglobin levels of more than 2.0 g per deciliter (1.24 micromol per liter) to a value below 8.0 g per deciliter (4.96 micromol per liter) or any decrease to less than 6.5 g per deciliter (4.03 micromol per liter).
Conclusions: In patients with inflammatory bowel disease and anemia refractory to treatment with iron and vitamins, treatment with oral iron and recombinant erythropoietin can raise hemoglobin levels.